I’m aware how reductive it can be to encapsulate a Milch-ian work in one word. It could devalue the razor-sharp perception embedded in his dialogue, it could diminish the thought-provoking choices made with any given shot, and it could disrespect the dedication his actors make to their characters. But it could also serve as a guidepost for the casual fan who wants to understand this man’s mastery with thematic cohesion.
This week, the word is seduction. The track is home to the sirens. Whether lured in by the tune of revenge, the hymns of glory days, or the rhythm of horses’ hooves, men and women from all walks of life pass through Santa Anita hoping to be seduced, or looking to ensnare. This week, as he outlined for us in last week’s ending, Ace is looking to hire his liaison, or “go-between, for dealing with Mike, the underworld boss who was largely responsible for Ace’s sentence. The more I see of Hoffman’s performance the more I’m won over by his command.
For intimidation, he need only a sarcastic quip or a persistent stare. His most powerful weapon is his disapproval, which can causes young derivatives hotshot, Nathan Israel (played by Patrick J. Adams) to tremble while trying to give off an air of confidence. He becomes Mr. Bernstein’s latest victim when he questions the practicality of his financial recommendations. It’s unsettling not knowing if Ace will lose his own reigns, because even flashes of his “temper” forebode violent capabilities. I fear Ace without him ever lifting a finger, and that’s genuine power. His contempt can be so demoralizing that a blow to the head would be welcomed just loosen his stranglehold on your wits.
Israel is asked politely by his superiors to meet with Ace. Once in Bernstein’s penthouse the interrogation begins. Ace grills him about his interjections in the boardroom and what compelled him to question his requests to free up money to buy the Santa Anita track. His skepticism comes from deducing that he dabbles in illegal business that extends beyond the cocaine possession charge he took three years prior. Ace of course dresses him down, makes him sweat. When Nathan retreats to the “lavatory” he clues in Gus on his motives. He’s unimpressed by the kid’s smarts and ambition, as it takes style to thrive in this business. But he also recognizes that he could would make Mike’s skin crawl, making him perfect for the job of “go-between.” He offers him $1 million for a year’s employ humbling the cocky financial guru.
On the track, our four degenerate pals make a play for the horse Renzo lost at the claiming race. Jerry exhibits prowess as a negotiator, snagging Mon Gateau for $27,000 instead of his supposed market value of $40K. He also convinces Escalante to train him. At first, he’s reluctant, reasoning that he got rid of the horse because his legs are weak even after two years of rehabbing. Jerry then cleverly rebukes: “Guy comes to me about a girl I still have eyes for, I tell him she has crabs.” Escalante is a steep price, but the exhausting expenses don’t deter our “four amigos.”
The childlike wonderment in their eyes as they pet and feed carrots to their new investment suggests this venture was as much about fulfilling a dream as it is about the earning potential. Even Marcus, still loud-mouthed and blunt, forces a smile as he becomes acquainted with the elegant beast. Renzo can’t help but boast to complete strangers and Lonnie appears unaffected my the brutal beating he suffered at the hands of the insurance temptresses when he strokes his new animal companion. It’s touching to see these four appreciating majesty as opposed to feigning for their big play.
It’s a tough week for the jockeys as both Ronnie Jenkins and Leon take major spills. Ronnie is thrown from Walter’s horse, Gettin’ Up Morning, when the foal is bumped off the rail. Ronnie resorts to his diehard habits of snorting cocaine and downing whiskey to ease the pain of a broken collarbone (which he has apparently broken before lamenting that he breaks his collarbone more than he gets laid) and shattered pride. Leon smashes his head on the floor when he passes out trying to make weight in the sauna. The dangers and pressures of ushering these horses to the promised land is beginning to take its toll on the rookie and seasoned veteran alike, causing their agent Joey to stammer even more severely as his clients recover. In Ronnie’s case, he’ll be out 4-6 weeks, but as suggested by his relapse, his time might be running out completely.
As endeared as I have been with Walter, his story this week came off as a memory wipe. Because of Ronnie’s injury he’s forced to confront his decision to deny Rosie the privilege to be his jockey. His now routine monologue is him practicing what he will say to her, and though this deliberation gave me the warm and fuzzies watching the sweet old man get nervous, it amounted to little more than a complication. Despite Ronnie’s propensity for failure, he always had Rosie in waiting so I was never worried that Rosie would not get her shot. Nick Nolte nails his elderly regret as always, but the circumstances surrounding it were slightly contrived.
I had mixed feelings concerning the relationships that were ignited this week. A woman named Claire enters Ace’s life when she requests he fund her Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, a program that would pair up convicts with broken down race horses, but a spark was evident, and Ace expresses his desire to meet with her to Gus. The other was utterly devoid of chemistry. Jo, (Jill Hennessy) Escalante’s veterinarian, is aghast when he accuses her of mouthing off about Mon Gateau’s condition, resulting in the horse being claimed. She is rightly offended, but when he “apologizes” by hitting on her, she responds by sleeping with him later on. I interpreted their hookup as one predicated on convenience, and maybe even loneliness. But if there was supposed to be romance or affection there was none to be found. I’m okay with loveless sex, but the motivations behind it were absent.
Episode Three, proved to be a continuation of last week, but stood on its own two feet during the character moments. Ace in particular started to feel like a real person, and not just a generic ex-con set on revenge. Our four generates showed sides of their personalities that made them more relatable, and the adorable Rosie is returning! Overall, there was less to jump out of my seat for, and with the horse race sequence shortened the episode lacked that injection of adrenaline that keeps me attentive. Milch, Mann and company executed another fine episode with memorable lines and arresting moments of tension and transcendence, but the pivotal race next week and the introduction of Mike will offer the rejuvenation necessary to keep me and other loyal viewers revved up. For maintaining its stylistic brilliance, and allowing us to view our new friends through windows of delight and mischief aside from the pity and desperation of the past two weeks, despite the lack of thrills “Luck” proved “its got a good head” like Gus’ horse avoiding a collision, with a B+.